BUILD grant draws support, concerns

The Cottage Grove City Council heard more than 40 minutes of public comment during the June 9 meeting after city staff put an agenda item before the board requesting permission to apply for a $10 million grant. 

The meeting, which routinely draws single-digit audiences, saw a protest sign, passionate speeches and an extended public comment period; a first in at least two years. 

The BUILD Grant (Better Utilization of Transportation to Leverage Development), and the question of whether or not Cottage Grove should apply for it, drew a line between those who felt the grant signified a possible change to down town Cottage Grove and those who believed the funds were needed for future projects that could be decided at a later date. 

Both board members and city staff repeatedly reminded that audience that Monday night’s vote was not an approval of the Main Street Refinement plan, but rather a vote that gave the city’s staff permission to apply for the grant. 

The refinement plan was approved two years ago and was conceptual, rather than detailed and lacked engineering specifics, according to City Manager Richard Meyers. The details, he said, would be ironed out by a committee made up of residents, city staff and the city council if Cottage Grove was selected as a grant recipient. 

Currently the plan, located on the city’s website, mentions the narrowing of streets on Main Street and widening sidewalks — the main point of contention at Monday’s meeting. Councilman Jake Boone noted that some of the sidewalks were not accessible and the city needed to make necessary repairs while mayor Jeff Gowing said he was not in favor of the suggestion to widen the sidewalks, citing the recent addition of picnic benches outside of the Axe and Fiddle, a restaurant on Main Street. 

“…Should we have 12-foot sidewalks so Axe and Fiddle can have more benches and expand their business? No,” he said. 

Boone noted that applying for the grant was the “least worst way” of repairing Main Street. 

“The vast majority of the plan is fixing things that need fixing,” he said, adding that if the city did not apply for the grant, it would still have to make repairs to streets, curbs and other infrastructure on Main Street but would have to block businesses several times as funds became available to make the repairs. 

Resident Duane Taddaei, who came to the meeting with a sign that read “Refine not Redefine” told the board that any improvements to Main Street would cost money to maintain and questioned whether the city could afford it. 

The project, according to Meyers, would center around downtown Cottage Grove and surrounding alleys. Information provided to the council by Meyers and Public Works and Development Director Faye Stewart stated that the project would, “include repaving Main Street and adjacent alleys, installation of accessible sidewalks with street trees, new in-ground infrastructure and improved aesthetics for Main Street and adjacent streets within the downtown historic district.”

Monday’s vote, however, did not tie the city’s hands in regards to the plan. City staff and council members noted that the plan could be “tweaked” if the city was awarded the funds. 

Gowing, who voted against the refinement plan two years ago, said, “I will fight the plan to the end. I’m for getting money so we have something to fight about later.” 

Councilor Kenneth Roberts told the board he had spoken to 200 people between the July 4th holiday and Monday night’s meeting. He said only one person was in favor of the plan and so, citing his promise to listen to his constituents, voted against the item that did not take action on the plan, but rather, allowed staff to apply for $10 million in funds. Roberts was the sole vote against the motion. 

Meyers told the council he thought Cottage Grove had a “good chance” at being selected given its rural designation and the fact that it has invested in fiber cables and other infrastructure improvements. 

The grant is expected to be awarded on Dec. 18 of this year. 

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